Milepost 5 Grand OpeningReview, April 9, 2011
It is sometimes considered a negative if an artist or a piece of art is described as "earnest", but that's not how I see it, especially since visiting the grand opening of Portland's Milepost 5 art "colony".
In a town where being perceived as "trying too hard" is cause for pity or worse, its refreshing to see the effects of putting dozens of creative young artists together into one building, adding a drizzle of Oregon rain, a pinch of commercial ambition, and then shaking well.*
In a way, Milepost 5 is a kind of socio-economic experiment, to determine whether in this age and in this economy, art is necessarily more like a winner-take-all tournament, or whether some of the other 99% of artists can make a living (or at least an income) from their work.
While there will always be many viewpoints and perspectives when considering a group as large as the members of the Milepost 5 community, the most evident attitude I noticed at Friday's grand opening was a hopeful, start small, but go-for-it, "earnest" kind of ambition, as evidenced by the opening of the ground floor commercial "wing" of the former nursing home turned live/work and now live/work/sell artist's community.
I'll get to mentioning some artworks I saw and artists I met at Milepost 5 in a few moments, but first want to describe the commercial developments I noted there just last night. It would be kind of accurate, but also misleading to describe the space as an art-oriented mini-mall. I saw several shops, boutiques, I suppose, selling art, jewelry, and hand-crafted items, and I hope to include a review and link for each of them as time permits. An art supply shop, Muse Art and Design, is scheduled to open later in the spring, keeping "artist's hours" Wednesday through Saturday, 2-8pm. (Apparently, there isn't much demand for acrylic paints and fresh canvasses at 8 AM on a Monday morning in these parts.) If Muse Art could be considered an "anchor", then the other anchor of this mini-mall might be the "food court", called "E.A.T".
Starting this week, E.A.T (standing for "Eat. Art. Theater") will be open to the public for weekend brunch, from 10am to 3pm, Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to the ongoing First Friday events. While the menu is not extensive, there are still a lot of good choices, and the prices are reasonable. EAT boasts a full bar, wine, and a choice of three beers. The theater part is a converted chapel, open to the dining area, which provides a cozy venue for music and theater events. The manager there, Mark, assures me that groups will be able to rent the theater space for special events.
EAT is open to the boutique shops of the ground floor. An art gallery, lobby, space for classes and workshops, and actual metalworking shop space complete the ground floor of the Studios building of Milepost 5. Actual artists and artisans live and work above this space in the second and thrird floors of this building, and in an adjacent building, the Lofts. These two buildings share a parking lot a block off of 82nd Avenue, making a visit there, for Sunday brunch say, a little easier. On the other hand, this might be a great location for a farmer's market, or even "saturday market"-type events.
The Art and Artists
I'll be brief, and describe only a few of the artworks I saw and artists I met.
Evan Wellington showed several sculptures in metal and clay. I especially liked his piece "Disintegration of the Able Savant". This sculpture started with the head and torso of a male figure, partially covered in small rectangular solids, and then etched, as if by an acid, and partially eaten away. Without being too too literal, the piece suggested the "barnacles" (computer chips?) that accrete to us, while also showing the erosion of the aging process.
Mike Crocker (MikeCrocker.com) showed a large selection of photographs in a 4 inch by 6 inch format. These photographs were remarkable in their quality of appearing to be abstract paintings. These are not so much geometric abstractions, but instead tend to capture the abstract pattern of decay on manmade and natural surfaces. The fact that these seemingly abstract images were actually photographs, points up the value of being free of the abstract painter's arbitrary choices, and the seemingly corrosive effect of the accumulation of those arbitrary choices on the confidence of the painter. I quite liked these images.
Ardis DeFreece (ardisdefreeceart.com) and Cindy Baker showed paintings on the more realistic side of the painting spectrum, and the great care (up to 40 hours of work to make a single painting) showed clearly in the finished products.
I hope to have to opportunity to add to these reviews at a later date.
Developments at Milepost 5 are very exciting, as much for their implications for community and commerce as they are for the artworks on display. With showings tied together by the proximity of the artists, and not some overarching theme, the artwork will naturally be uneven in effect and in quality. In my opinion, there is much to applaud in each of these areas. I look forward to seeing how all these developments play out in the coming months and years.
* okay. 2 buildings, and artists both young and old...